People often choose to supplement with protein powder to boost the body’s muscle repair and rebuilding processes. Some protein powders also contain additional branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are important for building muscle.
One of the most popular types of protein powder is made from whey protein; however,
there’s a major downside to whey protein for some people: It contains dairy.
Whey is the by-product of cheese production. During cheesemaking, special enzymes are added to heated milk. These enzymes cause the casein in milk to change to a solid state and separate from a liquid substance. That liquid substance is the whey protein, which is washed and dried into a powdered form.
For people who are dairy-free, lactose intolerant or vegan, the lactose in whey makes whey protein a non-option. Luckily, whey protein isn’t the only quality protein powder type out there. One of the most common non-dairy, plant-based protein powders is brown rice protein.
Brown rice protein is a protein supplement made from brown rice. To convert into powder form, the brown rice is treated with select enzymes that cause the protein and carbohydrates that make up the rice to separate. The protein is isolated, resulting in a protein powder.
According to a 2014 article titled “Amino Acid Composition of an Organic Brown Rice Protein Concentrate and Isolate Compared to Soy and Whey Concentrates and Isolates” published in the peer-reviewed Foods journal, brown rice contains 37% of the total protein as essential amino acids and 18% as BCAA, making it an optional source of protein.
Though brown rice has potential to be a great source of protein, it is not a complete protein because it lacks lysine and therefore needs to be combined with another lysine-containing protein such as collagen.
A complete protein is a protein that provides all of the essential amino acids in sufficient proportions to support the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 common amino acids that are split up into two types, essential and nonessential.
Eleven nonessential amino acids can be produced by the body and include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.
Nine essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed in the diet. The essential amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Brown rice protein by itself can be hypoallergenic. Label reading of protein supplements is imperative to ensure that the protein hasn’t been mixed into a recipe that includes other potential allergens.
A supplement is considered hypoallergenic if it is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Many individuals cannot tolerate egg, milk and soy protein due to food allergies. By itself, brown rice protein is a plant source of amino acids free of the top allergens such as soy, milk, and egg. It is also naturally gluten free.
The amino acids found in brown rice can help nourish blood vessels, improve kidney and liver function. Brown rice protein is particularly high in cysteine, which can help enhance lung health, boost sports performance and promote the body’s detoxification process. It is also a source of methionine, which is essential for the synthesis of proteins and many other biomolecules required for survival.
Brown rice protein has also been shown to aid cholesterol and blood sugar regulation. A 2018 study of brown rice published in the journal Antioxidants notes that brown rice is proven to be anti-diabetic and anti-cholesterol, as well as cardio-protective and antioxidant.
The health benefits of brown rice protein don’t end there: For those looking to build muscle mass, brown rice protein can also deliver similar muscle-building results as whey. For a 2013 study published in Nutrition Journal, researchers at the University of Tampa gave athletes rice protein after resistance exercise over the course of eight weeks. At the end of the study, the athletes had an increase in lean body mass, decrease in fat-mass, increase in skeletal muscle growth and increased power and strength in ways that were comparable to the results from whey protein supplementation. Researchers concluded the effects of rice protein were very comparable to those of whey protein. Then when researchers instructed the athletes to use the proteins in larger or maximum doses, the effects of the two protein types were once again comparable, if not equal.
Not only is brown rice protein supplementation great for muscle building and recovery, it is also beneficial to people looking to lose weight, as brown rice has a “thermic effect.” This means brown rice protein creates heat in the body through the process of digestion. Since lean proteins like brown rice protein take a lot of energy to digest, the body is burning calories long after the protein is consumed. (Though it’s important to note that this is true of all lean proteins and not exclusive to brown rice protein.)
Brown rice has a high fiber content, which means brown rice protein can take longer to digest than other fast-absorbing proteins like whey. Increased fiber and slower digestion can cause bloating or gas.
Brown rice also has an increased potential for contamination with the heavy metal arsenic, which is an extremely toxic trace element that occurs naturally in the environment. There are two types of arsenic — the organic and the inorganic. The inorganic form, which is common in water and rocks, poses a greater risk to human health. Since rice grows in fields flooded with water, it’s possible for inorganic arsenic in the ground water to make its way into the plant. Heightened levels of pollution and the use of chemical fertilizers can also lead to increases in inorganic arsenic levels.
Brown rice often contains higher levels of arsenic than white rice due to brown rice’s hulls; however, it’s easy to avoid arsenic in your brown rice protein powder if you choose a brand of protein powder that tests for arsenic levels. High-quality protein brands want to ensure you’re not consuming anything dangerous for your body.
When it comes to supplementing with a plant protein, many people find themselves struggling to choose between pea protein and brown rice protein. Both pea protein and brown rice protein are great options. They each have their own set of pros and cons: Pea protein is low in methionine but rich in lysine, while brown rice protein is low in lysine but contains methionine.
Like brown rice protein, pea protein is a plant protein that is comparable to whey protein. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, male participants between the ages of 18 and 35 followed the same 12-week upper-body lifting program. One group supplemented with 25 grams of pea protein twice a day, and another took the exact same amount of whey protein. Although the 25 grams of protein from pea protein delivered around two grams of leucine, compared to 2.65 grams for whey, both fell right in the middle of the optimal leucine range. Researchers recorded biceps muscle thickness at the beginning and end of the study. At the end of the 12 weeks, both groups showed identical increases in biceps muscle thickness, and both pea protein and whey protein types also showed greater results than placebo.
The good news? Both pea protein and brown rice protein can play a role in a person’s daily protein consumption — there’s no need to choose between the two. It’s common for people to combine the two proteins to create a complete plant-based protein regimen. Together, these ingredients include all nine essential amino acids. Brown rice protein and pea protein can be blended in a ratio that mirrors the optimal amino acid profile of whey protein, without any dairy products or animal products involved.
When choosing a protein powder for yourself, it all boils down to your dietary needs and preferences. If you’re not sure where to start — or if you’re unsure if brown rice protein is the right protein source for you — Gainful can help.
To create a personalized protein powder, start by taking Gainful’s quiz. Select your dietary preferences or restrictions and overall wellness goals, then Gainful will take over and create a customized protein powder just for you. If you’re stuck between brown rice protein and another type of protein, Gainful will point you in the right direction. (Your body might thrive with a blend, and you may not even realize it yet!)
Each month, you’ll receive your unflavored protein blend and single-serving Flavor Boost sticks that you can mix in your drink to create a protein shake that satisfies your cravings.
Still have questions about whether brown rice protein is the way to go? With Gainful, each subscriber has unlimited access to a personal Registered Dietitian, who’s available to answer any questions you may have about your protein powder, protein sources, the amount of protein, fat and carbs you need — anything that has to do with your wellness and fitness goals.